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Higher Education and the Black Community: The James E. Blackwell Papers

The Amistad Research Center is pleased to announce the opening of the papers of Dr. James E. Blackwell, sociologist and educator who specialized in the study of the sociology and economics of the Black community and the desegregation of higher education institutions in the United States.

Long-time professor and chair of the Department of Sociology at the University of Massachusetts Boston (1970-1989), Dr. Blackwell focused his research on the structure of inequality within major social institutions, particularly in the areas of economics, professional marketplace, and education. He specifically studied the ability of Black students and other ethnic minorities’ to access higher education in graduate and professional schools, including enrollment, recruitment, and coping strategies for Black students in predominantly white institutions.

Blackwell was born in Anniston, Alabama. He received his Bachelors of Science and Masters of Arts degrees from Western Reserve University (1949), and his Sociology from Washington State University (1959). Dr. Blackwell held several university teaching positions, as well as a number of high level administrative positions throughout his career. He was Deputy/Acting Director of the United States Peace Corps in Tanganyika (Tanzania) from 1963 to 1964, Director of the Peace Corps in Malawi (1964-1966) and Director of the Division of Public Administration and Community Development for USAID in Kathmandu, Nepal (1966-1969).

Peace Corps Volunteers in Health Project, Blantyre, Malawi, 1964.

A prolific writer and researcher Dr. Blackwell published a number of books, as well as scholarly articles throughout his career. The major theme of his book, The Black Community: Diversity and Unity was to dispel the myth of stereotyping of the African American community, which he posited as being held together by racism. His study of the collective efforts to assist Black Americans to enter the professional workforce, Mainstreaming Outsiders: The Production of Black Professionals provides an analysis of many professional disciplines including medicine, engineering, law, and the social and physical sciences. The documentation within the collection from his research for these two books, as well as his many other writings are extensive.

In 1977 National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) sued the department of Health, Education, and Welfare (HEW) for failing to develop appropriate requirements for state desegregation plans. In Adams v. Califano, Judge John Pratt ruled that North Carolina and five other states should stop receiving federal funds until they comply with the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Title VI by increase black enrollment at predominately white public colleges and universities. Dr. Blackwell was a consultant and expert witness on a number of these high profile desegregation in higher education cases including, Adams v. Califano, as well as Ayers v. Fordice (Mississippi) and Knight v. Alabama (Alabama). He also served as a major consultant to the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and to the Office of the Attorney General for the State of Maryland defending affirmative action programs in higher education at the University of Maryland in the case of Podberesky v. Kirwan. Dr. Blackwell’s work on these cases is well documented within his collection, including transcripts of testimony and research documentation.

Dr. Blackwell was extensively involved in various professional organizations and was the first President of the Association of Black Sociologists (1970), and received the American Sociological Association’s Dubois-Johnson-Frazier Award in 1986.

Funding support for this project to arrange and preserve the James E. Blackwell papers was received by the Institute for Museum and Library Services (IMLS).

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